Female Empowerment Through Sports: Watson Fellow Kate Joss ’17

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  • Kate Joss '17, who is a four-year member of the women's soccer team, will channel her love of sport into a study of female sport around the world–from "cholita wrestling" to netball.

  • Joss will begin her Watson year in La Paz, Bolivia, with a case-study featuring the lucha-libre fight style, otherwise known as "cholita wrestling." 

  • Cholita wrestling began as a way for females who suffered from domestic abuse to express their frustration and release stress.

  • Next, Joss will head to South Africa. Because access to sports is generally reserved for boys in South African culture, the Girls & Football organization functions to give young women a chance to share their passion as well as the hardships they encounter as athletes and members of society.

  • In India, Joss will study Yuwa, which developed out of one of India's largest slums and provides underprivileged girls from rural communities a chance to involve themselves in an organized sports program.

  • Joss's last destination will be New Zealand, one of the top 10 most gender-equal countries in the world. In New Zealand, netball–a game similar to basketball–is the most popular women's sport, with the Kiwi national team ranked second in the world.

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Katharine Joss '17 and Rachel McKay '17, both Davidson scholar athletes, have been awarded the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Joss and McKay were among 40 fellows named from a national field of 149 finalists. Joss will travel the world to better understand how the lives of girls and young women are affected by participation in sports. Here she explains the genesis of the project. Learn more about McKay's project on justice and incarceration here


Just as sports influenced my development and helped me overcome childhood fears and limitations, I want to see how sports programs, on an international scale, provide similar opportunities for female growth. I will work closely with girls, coaches, teams, athletic programs and diverse communities in Bolivia, South Africa, India and New Zealand to deepen my understanding of the impact of athletic participation and to learn which models facilitate positive development.


As a Watson Fellow, I will have the opportunity to explore cultural differences and commonalities, specific local and global knowledge on gender norms, physical and mental health during pre-adolescent and adolescent years, and attitudes and beliefs related to how girls internationally view sports. 


 I chose to investigate female sports participation because it is something that has significantly impacted my life as a student, athlete and community member for the past 15 years. While I understand not everyone plays sports competitively, I believe the life lessons and confidence gained through any type of sports participation can play a major role in the development of young girls.


My interest in exploring the impact of female sports participation stems from a passion to help young girls succeed, which is why I have purposefully worked with young girls as a coach, teacher and mentor. In the future, I hope to utilize the knowledge I acquire on this journey to empower young girls and help them reach their full potential. After this, I plan to attend medical school and hope to someday couple sports outreach with my work as a doctor by volunteering as a coach or overseeing a sports program for young girls and encouraging female sports participation in the community.


I feel extremely humbled and incredibly excited to have this opportunity, and I'm thankful for all of the professors, coaches and friends who have helped me so much along the way.


Joss, a chemistry and Hispanic studies major from Louisville, Kentucky, is a member of the women's soccer team. She has served as Spanish instructor, tutor and translator, is currently a member of the Honor Council and Student Athletic Advisory Committee, and is co-president and co-founder of Global Brigades, Inc., an initiative to support sustainable health and development in Nicaragua. She previously served as athletic policy committee chair for the Student Government Association.


The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship


This 49th class of Watson Fellows comes from six countries and 21 states and will travel to 67 countries exploring topics ranging from pediatric cancer treatment to citizen journalism to wildfire management.


Watson Fellowships allow scholars to pursue independent research projects while traveling for a year outside the United States after graduation. Fellows receive $30,000 for 12 months of travel, and college loan assistance as required.


The children of Thomas J. Watson Sr., the founder of International Business Machines Corp., and his wife, Jeannette K. Watson, established the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program in 1968 to honor their parents' long-standing interest in education and world affairs. In its 43-year history, more than 2,800 people have embarked on a Watson Year, which provides fellows with an opportunity to test their aspirations, abilities and perseverance through a personal project that is cultivated on an international scale.


Watson Fellows have gone on to become international influencers in their fields including CEOs of major corporations, college presidents, Emmy, Grammy and Oscar Award winners, Pulitzer Prize awardees, artists, diplomats, doctors, faculty, journalists, lawyers, politicians, researchers and inspiring leaders around the world.





  • April 21, 2017